Camera bleg

My canon 2.1 megapixel digital camera is on its last legs, and I’m not too disturbed – it was always a pokey, annoying beast. I can’t count the times I brought it to photograph a concert or event and had to wait as the green light blinked for 5 seconds between shots. So sometime over the holidays (fuck you, O’Reilly) I want to buy a new camera. And I think I’m ready to spend the extra $100 and get a serious digital camera with the option of adding/attaching new zooms and lenses for serious photogging.

Basic question: Where to start? What’s a good brand? If the comments don’t work (how come the spammers can log in and no one else can?) email me at daveweigel at gmail.

In conclusion, I like music produced by white people

The redoubtable Julian Sanchez received this meme from a very complicated post by Jason Kuznicki. The gist seems to be “Hey, name five perfect albums.” Kuznicki:

I continue to be fascinated by the idea of the “perfect” album — the rare compilation where every track is outstanding, and where all of them fit well together, such that you never want to skip a single song.

But the gist is not the point. The point is to essay on various musical issues and themes. This is something Julian and Jason do very well, but for all my music obsession I have trouble going that deep.

My musical history, briefly: I only started liking pop music when I was 14 and needed something that would make my stints mowing the lawn pass by a little quicker. I grooved on Meat Loaf’s second Bat Out of Hell, then on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, and that started me on the hunt for pop with good melodies. Apart from a detour into metal fandom (which never got too serious since I was too wimpy to go to any shows) I’ve generally kept looking for the same thing in my music: Melody. So I can enjoy “Knockin’ at Your Back Door” by Deep Purple or “Salvation” by Elton John or “At the Helm” by Del tha Funkee Homosapien in equal measure. This means that I buy a lot of music. Pro: I can initiate and maintain a conversation about music with almost anyone. Con: If you converted the cash in my savings account to $100 bills and started stacking them, the pile wouldn’t quite reach the top of the 69 Love Songs box.

Another con: I don’t overthink music. This doesn’t seem like a problem, until you consider that when I set out to become a journalist nine years ago I figured music would be what I cover. I’ve written reviews for a number of small publications, and sometimes the analyses have poured out of me. But rarely, and often not centered completely on the music itself. I’ll find myself talking about the process of recording a record or putting together the band that made it, which other music listeners (and serious music writers) can brush off as irrelevent. I am worringly obsessed with packaging and, yes, list-making. One game I play is to take a band that’s never been compiled, or compiled well – The Smiths, The Skids, Sparks (there is a good Sparks comp but it’s out of print), to name three that start with an “S” – and cobble together a best of or multi-album best of. Many audiophiles would consider this a useless exercise. It might be, but this is how I think of music; I internalize it while trying to do right by the people who created it.

After reading the essays by Julian and Jason I made some fast, Malcolm Gladwell-style judgments and thought of albums that fit Jason’s bill. I passed by a number of albums that everyone generally agrees are perfect. Rubber Soul? OK, explain to me how “Doctor Robert” isn’t a stinker. The Joshua Tree? The second side is boring. Here was my back of the envelope list:

20/20 – 20/20
Can – Future Days
Leonard Cohen – The Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Creedance Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
The Damned – Machine Gun Etiquette
Del tha Funkee Homosapien – Deltron 3030
Depeche Mode – Black Celebration
Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire De Melody Nelson
Genesis – Selling England by the Pound
Tommy Keene – Songs From The Film
King Crimson – Discipline
Pet Shop Boys – Very
Scott Walker – Scott 4

And here’s my 5.

If I can pass on the meme, I choose: Rich, Ellen, and Jim.

Myths of Steele

Ben Stein:

Most of the people there were Texans who had known the President for decades, but there were some others like Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, and Michael Steele, lieutenant governor of Maryland, who just lost an agonizingly close race to now Senator-elect Cardin.

Not quite true. He scored 44 percent of the vote against Ben Cardin’s 54 percent, with a Green Party blowhard (whose voters assumingly weren’t tempted by Steele) winning the rest. That’s a worse beating than Mike Dukakis took from George HW Bush. The margin was about 170,000 votes.

I really thought we’d be free of the tiresome Michael Steele after he lost this election. Of course, I thought the “Hillary for president!” talk would stop after another Northeast liberal senator lost the presidency in 2004. I always forget that this stuff is driven by buzz and feelings instead of facts.

Briefly noted

Good golly but do I ever sound stupid on my interview tapes.

SUBJECT: *something poised*
ME: Uhm… and… but… one thing I want to get back to… you were saying that in 1994 you said that (go on for 30 seconds).
SUBJECT: *sigh of resignation followed by concise response*

“If the Democrats ever want to be competitive”…

Searching for a review of James Webb’s Born Fighting and I find Mack Owens’ take.

If the Democrats ever want to be competitive in American politics again, they need to figure out a way to appeal to the Scots-Irish culture that is essentially coeval with the red states, indeed with the red counties within blue states. Maureen Dowd can petulantly stamp her feet all she wants but it is this culture that gave rise to true American-style democracy. James Webb has shown us that as long as the likes of Dowd and Michael Moore are the arbiters of the Democratic Party, the Democrats are unlikely to win another national election. But the flipside is just as important. The Republicans cannot afford to take this culture for granted.

That proved to be pretty true, didn’t it? To Owens’ credit, he was one of very writers recognizing the paradigm shift that Senate candidate Webb represented. Read this from February, when Owens’ NR compatriots were still buttering George Allen up as a president-in-waiting.

Tucker Carlson: Prissy Little Girl

I keep a TV turned to cable news on for different parts of the day, when I’m not on the phone. Tucker Carlson has won the remote derby for the past two days, and I must ask: Was he always so obsessive and snippy about Hillary Clinton? For example, this from his Thursday show.

CARLSON: Nobody, maybe that`s exactly the point. Why Hillary, other than the fact she is a woman. I want to get to something you didn`t mention.
KAMBER: Well that`s a big reason.
CARLSON: If that`s a rationale, because she is a woman. I mean, what century is this?
KAMBER: For me that`s a big reason.
CARLSON: I mean why not Diane Feinstein, who has actually done something with her life. Why not Barbara Boxer?
KAMBER: Why not?
CARLSON: I`ll tell you why, because they are not photogenic, that`s why. And I think it`s appalling. They should be the nominees. Oh, I would support them over Hillary, that`s for sure.

I think I basically agree, but it’s hard to shake the image of Carlson getting his nails done and sighing through a nutrient mask while he says this.

2006: A Look back

Hey, kids! Here the fuck it is – my top 10 albums of the year. It includes two British imports, and I have yet to hear a Canadian-only release, Sloan’s Never Hear The End Of It, if any of you Christmas gift-givers have 20 loonies sitting around.

Keene Brothers – Blues and Boogie Shoes

This is a special case; I doubt anyone who fails to worship at the altar of Robert Pollard and Tommy Keene would rank this so high. But I love Keene’s power pop and I love Robert Pollard’s… Pollardacity, so the very existence of this album is as if a dream. And the songs – perfect. Sample: “Death of the Party.”

2: Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental

It’s a grower, the first PSB album that takes a while to sink in since Behaviour. Only after a few weeks do you understand that “Minimal,” “Indefinite Leave to Remain,” “The Sodom And Gomorrah Show,” et al are among the best songs Tennant and Lowe have ever committed to plastic. Sample: “Minimal.”

3: Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55

The songs (by Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon) resurrect that old Gainsbourg trick of making you feel like the most sophisticated man on earth even as you look around for the cops to show up. And Charlotte out-sings the hell out of Serge. Sample: “The Songs That We Sing.”

4: Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

Sample: “Smiley Faces.”

5: The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

Sample: “Sons and Daughters.”

6: Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis

Sample: “Fat Children.”

7: The Roots – Game Theory

Sample: “In the Music.”

8: Sparks – Hello Young Lovers

Sample: “Perfume.”

9: TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain

Sample: “Wolf Like Me.”

10: Ghostface Killah – Fishscale

Sample: “Back Like That.”

bubbling under
Lloyd Cole – Anti-Depressant
Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Jon Auer – Songs from the Year of Our Demise
Tommy Keene – Crashing the Ether
Morrissey – Ringleader of the Tormentors
Mission of Burma – The Oliterati
The Killers – Sam’s Town
Nelly Furtado – Loose
Robert Pollard – From a Compound Eye
Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
Scissor Sisters – Tah-Dah!

Whatever it takes! I’m gonna make it through! AGAIN!

When you’re in a mood to spend several consecutive evenings watching episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation, you can churn through the entire fourth season pretty fast. You can also come to the conclusion, as I have, that Linda Shuyler’s life’s work reached it apoethesis in the third through fifth seasons of her fourth TV series. (The first three being Kids of Degrassi St., Degrassi Junior High, and Degrassi High. You knew that.)

Let us review. In season three, Emma dumped tough white boy Sean for the almost indescribably boring Chris, a DJ. Sean settled for Ellie, the goth girl turned cool. Craig broke Ashley’s heart by cheating with – and impregnating – Manny. She got an abortion and rebounded into the arms of J.T. Paige and Spinner cobbled together the only rock-solid relationship on the series. Marco came to terms with his homosexuality and starting dating Paige’s hot brother Dylan on the sly. Terri was beaten into a coma by psycho Rick, who was expelled before Terri recovered and decided not to return to Degrassi. Jimmy and Hazel… existed.

Season four opens with Paige getting a summons to appear at the trial of Dean, her date rapist, whose existence she forgot about in the two years since he forced himself on her at a party. She agonizes over it, then appears – and loses the case. Enraged, she crashes her boyfriend Spinner’s car into Dean’s car, taking a big, fat whack at the Gordion Knot that had been their relationship. Aaaand the tone of the season is set, as everything set up over three hard years (18 years, if you count from the first Degrassi series) falls apart.

Much of that is due to the fact that these kids are, uh, kids. The very popular Sean leaves the series and dumps his girlfriend when he realixes he’s never dealt with the ugly circumstances of his upbringing. (This revelation is spurred by events I’ll explain later.) Paige terminates her relationship with Spinner in order to pursue a doomed affair with a teacher. Manny, having ruined her friendship with Emma, ruins a new friendship with Paige.

The tipping point for all of this is the most shocking episode of any Degrassi series – “Time Stand Still.” (All episodes are named for songs of the 1980s. This is a Rush song from Hold Your Fire.) Rick, having been let back into the school after therapy, is tormented by the main characters who want revenge for his brutalization of Terri. When Rick wins a televised trivia contest, his chance to recover his reputation and friends is ruined by a tub of goo and feathers that Spinner and the way-too-old-for-high-school bad kid Jay rigged above the stage. Spinner and Jay blame Jimmy for the deed within Rick’s earshot, so Rick brings a gun to school and shoots Jimmy in the back, paralyzing him, and attempting to kill Emma before Sean wrestles him to the ground and the gun goes off next to Rick’s heart.

This shakes up the series nicely. Sean leaves; Craig goes from unstable to actively nuts; Jimmy goes from basketball star to crippled artiste; Emma turns from adventurous good girl to burgeoning slut; Spinner is forced out of the main cast, which by season’s end has completely splintered.

That’s a lot of drama that, almost for the last time in Degrassi history, is carefully attuned to actual high school issues. Each new crisis has its immediate impact and its long-term impact, giving kids excuses to marginalize ex-friends out of their lives. Almost none of the characters react to the crises by supporting each other, except for Ashley, who sticks with Craig when his dementia is revealed as untreated bipolar disorder. And even then, her sympathy has a limit; the year ends with her breaking the relationship off and using the Atlantic Ocean to separate him. Kids will be kids; any chance to terminate a difficult situation is going to get seized.

Current listening: Guided by Voices – “Not Good For The Mechanism”